Depression for Dummies

While scrolling through social media the other day, I happened upon a post that was a literal minefield of controversy. A celebrity made a statement regarding depression and the motivation to live a more meaningful life. This celebrity simply stated in so many words that if you don’t get out there in the world, walk around, experience life, feel the sunshine and breathe in fresh air then you aren’t doing yourself justice. You aren’t trying. As someone who tries to navigate through the storm of depression everyday of my life, I can tell you that my gut reaction to this statement was anger.

The very essence of depression is the inability to get out there and enjoy such things. Getting out there takes effort. Enjoyment, physical and emotional, can be broken down into chemical reactions. We all know that neurotransmitters do not play by the rules in a depressed person’s brain. Who is to say what causes enjoyment in one person will bring the same satisfaction to someone else? There is no one size fits all solution here and to propose it’s as simple as taking a walk on a nice day is insulting. That’s not to say sunshine doesn’t have it’s benefits. Will it provide some Vitamin D or assist those with Seasonal Affective Disorder? Sure, it might. Will it pull you out of the deep, undulating ocean of despair and hopelessness that seems to come out of nowhere and swallow you alive? Doubtful.

Personally, I felt like it undermined the seriousness and credibility of depression as a disease.
When did psychiatry become pseudo-medicine? When did everyone become an expert on how to pull someone “out of a slump” or a “rough patch”? Why does clinical depression keep getting lumped into the same category as having the blues or a bad day?

I can say from experience that if breathing in fresh air would have spared me years of suffering, switching doctors and playing medication roulette- it would have been done by now. Finding the right anti-depressant medication is like finding someone halfway decent on a dating website. It takes a lot of trial and error and even then it usually doesn’t work long term. The reason why is simple and that is because depression is complicated. (Like what I did there?) The brain isn’t just inhabited by one type of neurotransmitter that controls mood, it harbors many. Depression can be caused by an imbalance in any of these chemicals, not just the presumed usual suspect. Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, GABA and who knows what other yet to be discovered mind messengers, all have a seat at the table.

Taking medication is difficult because it ultimately comes with side effects. There is always a waiting period and it usually lasts several weeks. So you hang in limbo for 4-6 weeks of your life dealing with nausea, headaches and/or zero sex drive just to see if it makes a little bit of difference. Oh, and there is always a slim chance it might make you really wig out or cause some life threatening allergic reaction. Does that sound like something anybody would subject themselves to if they didn’t have to?
Let’s say something finally works and you coast along for a while, as well as you can expect to be. After all, there is no magic bullet. One or two little pills will not cure depression anymore than a day at the beach but it can relieve the symptoms substantially. Eventually, however, even the best of anti-depressants will poop out. You come to the crossroads where you have to go up in dose or go off the med(s) and start all over. Going up in dose can bring unwanted side effects. Going off the medication can be literal hell. Then you have all the side effects involved with trying a new one. Or you can wallow in a state of doom, waiting for the floor to drop out any minute. Depression will wait in a dark corner, sharpening it claws and pounce when least expected. Or it will show up right away...small, dark and unassuming but continue to follow you day to day, room to room, hour to hour until it fills your peripherals and you just can’t avoid it any longer.

Then maybe just go for walk? Get some ice cream? Bird watching? It’s your daydream, color it as you like.

So what fuels this ongoing stigma that still envelopes itself around depression? For all the strides we make as a culture of humans, it seems we always fall backwards every chance we get. There is so much ignorance surrounding mental illness. Yes it is all in our heads. It is a disease of the brain and that happens to be where our brains are, inside our heads.

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